The Big Ten conference is making money, yo.
Earlier this month, USA Today reported that the Big Ten’s revenue in 2018 was $759,000,000—up 48% from 2017. The increase was mostly attributable to a new media rights deal the went into effect in 2018. (That same media rights deal is why we now get fewer Big Ten basketball games on ESPN2 and ESPNU, and more on Fox and FS1.)
That $759,000,000 translates to $54,000,000 per school that receives a full share. (Maryland and Rutgers aren’t receiving full shares yet, as they have to buy into the equity of the Big Ten Network and pay back several loans.) By way of comparison, the SEC distributed $43,700,000 to its member schools.
And let me just point out—this is money that schools are getting from the conference. The Big Ten conference negotiates things like media rights deals and bowl tie-ins. It doesn’t include money that each athletic department took in from donations or from merchandise or popcorn sales, or ticket revenue (though for Big Ten football games, there is some limited revenue sharing).
So our favorite fourteen athletic departments are making a lot more money than they did in the past. What are some things that they can do with that money? Well, there are some good ideas and some bad ideas. I’ll give you a little bit of both.
Invest In Facilities
This is the big one that you gotta do if you want to stay competitive in major college athletics. The fact is, though, that most programs have already made significant investments in their facilities over the past five, ten, and fifteen years. Hell, recently even IU football and Northwestern basketball, the two unquestioned historical bottom-dwellers of the Big Ten, got shiny new renovations.
The one Big Ten member that still desperately needs a facilities overhaul is Rutgers, but Rutgers won’t even be making half as much as other conference members until 2021, and won’t be getting a full share until 2027. No wonder the Scarlet Knights are finding it difficult to be competitive.
Pay The Coaches
The Big Ten has started to shell out some big bucks for basketball and football coaches recently. Not just for guys like Tom Izzo or Urban Meyer, who are (or were, in Urban’s care) proven winners, but also for guys who have demonstrated that they have real potential like Jeff Brohm and Chris Holtmann. (And there are some programs who pay their coach big money because they feel like they have to, even though their coaches are more sizzle than steak at this point.)
At some point, though, does the Big Ten get serious about baseball? Our conference is second to none when it comes to fan support for wrestling, hockey, and women’s volleyball, but there are other conferences who more or less embarrass us in baseball. At what point do we open up the checkbook and hire some top-notch coaches? The SEC did it in men’s basketball.
Pay The Players
They’re the ones who are earning the money, right? And yet they don’t see a penny.
Of course, the truth is more nuanced than that, and I don’t think the leadership at most Big Ten schools is ready to give up on the ideal of the student-athlete, but by God you know if the NCAA starts allowing larger stipends to be paid to players, the Big Ten isn’t going to be (legally) outspent.
Speaking of the SEC... y’all are ten million dollars per school behind us. Suck it, southerners!
Sponsor More Sports
The Pac-12 brands itself as the Conference of Champions because they win more national titles than anyone else, because they sponsor more sports than anyone else. Yeah, the Big Ten isn’t about to start sponsoring beach volleyball (though I’d watch it on BTN—just saying), but is there any reason an athletic department as rich as Wisconsin doesn’t have baseball? Northwestern doesn’t have men’s track or cross country. Maryland doesn’t have women’s swimming and diving. Rutgers doesn’t have men’s tennis. Indiana and Purdue don’t have women’s gymnastics.
The Big Ten sponsors fourteen men’s and fourteen women’s sports. Ohio State and Michigan are the only schools in the conference who play all 28. Not coincidentally, those are the schools that have historically had the largest athletic departments, money-wise. Now that we’re all rolling in the dough, there’s no reason not to think about playing more sports.
Buy Really Expensive Office Space
If the Pac-12 can waste money on extravagant office space in Silicon Valley, by God the Big Ten can waste even more money by renting office space in Manhattan. (The SEC is in Birmingham, like a bunch of peasants.)
Bribe More Officials
The Big Ten, as we all know, hasn’t won a national championship in basketball since 2000. (Or 2002, if you count Maryland’s title from then.) As any fan of any sports team can tell you, when your team loses, it’s because they got cheated by the refs. Like they say in NASCAR, if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’. Isn’t it time we started trying a little harder?
Reduce Ticket Prices
Or at least do something to make the in-person experience more enjoyable for the casual fan. Lots of people would rather sit on their fat ass and watch TV than go attend a game in person. It looks bad when Big Ten arenas are half full for football and basketball games. I’m not saying you charge $5 to get in, but you can charge $2 for a hotdog instead of $6.50. You can invest in making the stadium wifi blazingly fast, with an app that provides up-to-the-second in-game stats and the same replay angles that the viewers at home get to see.
Fund A Startup
$759 million isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? $759 billion.